How to Avoid “Traffic Cop” Parenting

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

How do your children handle problems or decisions? Some children whine, complain, or have bad attitudes. But problems and decisions make great opportunities to teach children to face life’s challenges. Unfortunately, too often parents end up managing their kids so much they feel like traffic cops trapped in the intersections of life with no end in sight.

Wanting to spare children frustration in life, sometimes parents step in unnecessarily, and rob children of great learning opportunities. Frustration often provides motivation to children, and a parent’s patient coaching can help them experience the success of accomplishing a goal or overcoming a roadblock. In order for this to take place, however, parents must sometimes give up the role of problem solver and take on the role of coach or counselor as life teaches a valuable lesson.

Identify a Trigger for Your Child to Work the Plan

Developing good decision-making skills gives children the ability to define a problem, look at consequences of various alternatives, and then choose the best solution among the options. Allowing children to solve some problems for themselves communicates an important message to them. It says, “I believe in you. You have what it takes.” It’s a great confidence and internal motivation builder.

Often children need a plan or a structure and a trigger that indicates that it’s time to work the plan. Does that plan have to be the parent or does Mom or Dad have to be the trigger? No, but it means parenting differently. We can’t just walk away. We have to set up the system using training vs correction and then we coach children to be successful to implement it.

Don’t be too quick to solve a problem or make a decision for your kids. When possible, involve them in the process, not just in the final product. Much of the day-to-day problem solving and decision-making in family life can demonstrate cooperation and teamwork as parents and children work together. Cooperative decision-making teaches children valuable skills of negotiation, compromise, communication, and creating alternatives.

Involve Kids In the Solution

You might even take a problem-solving approach to a relational problem such as an angry response when asked to leave the video game to come to dinner. “Son, we have a problem. I’ve noticed that you have a tendency to be angry and grunt at me when I ask you to leave the video game and do something else. That’s a problem. I’ll know if you’re mature enough to play video games if you have a good response when interrupted. Before you start playing the video game today, I’d like you to develop a plan for when I interrupt you that’s more gracious. I’d like to know what you’re going to say to yourself and then what you’re going to say to me.” By balancing firmness with relationship and getting the child involved in the solution, children are more apt to process the issues on a heart level.

It’s a challenge sometimes to know when to solve problems for children and when to let them struggle. When undue frustration builds or a situation becomes dangerous, you must step in to help. But parents sometimes step in too quickly because they don’t like to see their children suffering with even a small bit of frustration. Or, parents know that if this gets out of hand a major eruption may take place. Don’t tiptoe around your child’s anger or let kids use intensity and emotion to get their way. See 10 Truths about a child’s Anger. Your job isn’t just to keep the peace. You’re teaching children skills for the future. Problem solving is an important one to learn now.

It can be painful to wait for a five-year-old to try to decide which snack to eat, or torture to hear an eight-year-old talk about how she can’t find her favorite sweater. One mom said, “I can’t stand to watch my four-year-old tie his shoe. I just want to grab it and say, ‘Here, let me do it.’ ”

When Life Teaches, You Can Coach

Before you step in and solve the problem and be the hero, you may want to ask yourself, “Is this is one of those times when I might allow life to be the teacher and I become the counselor or coach?” Allowing children to struggle through a problem to a solution often results in more powerful learning than you can produce otherwise. Relieving the frustration might not be the best solution, and your willingness to encourage a child to solve the problem independently may accomplish more in the long run.

Jesus allowed life to be the teacher as he worked with his disciples. He allowed Peter to walk on the water and fail but was close by to pick him up again (Matthew 14:28-31). When the disciples told Jesus to send the crowd home so that they could eat, Jesus threw the problem back to them, “You give them something to eat.” Then he allowed them to be part of the solution, feeding 5,000 people (Mark 6:37-44).

Some of the most valuable lessons come from experience. If parents can make the switch from rescuer to coach, children will learn more and develop wisdom. So the next time you see your child struggling, put on the coach’s hat and watch learning take place.

How might you respond to this question: “Mom, will you take me to the store right now?” Would you say, “No, I’m busy” or “Okay, let’s go”? Those might be simple answers to the request, but why not turn this into a cooperative learning experience about how we make such decisions.

You might say, “Why don’t you tell me more. I’m working on something right now. Let’s work this out together.” Sometimes parents make the error of emphasizing parental authority and other times simply try to please their children. Neither is wrong but you might miss a valuable teaching opportunity.

Problem solving and decision-making become the garden where independence and responsibility grow as children learn that the process is just as important as the end result. You can help children consider the ramifications of a particular decision. You might ask, “How will your brother feel if you do that?” Or, “I’m wondering how your friend feels when you eat a cookie in front of him.”

One of the cues that reveals teaching opportunities is complaining. Keep in mind that sometimes children complain about the problem and other times they complain because they don’t like any of the available solutions. Complaining focuses on a problem without taking responsibility for the solution. When children feel hopeless about problems, your words of encouragement often provide the fuel to continue on or the energy to persevere.

See Dr. Scott’s Facebook live post on this subject:


The Seven Parenting Tools

There are seven tools in the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program used to bring about major changes in children. Each parent needs to tweak the recipe and use different combinations of the seven tools in order to reach a child’s heart. Seasoned and trained coaches are standing by to help you develop that recipe and implement it with your unique child. The Sixth tool is COACHING. The others are RELATIONSHIP, FIRMNESS, VISIONING, TEACHING, PRAYER, and TRANSFERRING RESPONSIBILITY. Learn more about the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program here.

Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN teach live parenting seminars around the country. They have written 15 books on parenting and have created five video training programs for parents. You may learn more at or

Listen to Dr Turansky’s podcast on Teaching Kids Initiative.

  • Shayla Hale
    Posted at 12:05h, 17 May Reply

    One of the things a recent parent coaching session revealed was that the parent didn’t want to take the time to let her child work out a solution. Training takes time – a lot of it – but in the end it is worth the investment because the child becomes the problem solver instead of the parent.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 08:27h, 20 May Reply

      Thank you Shayla, I’m grateful for your partnership as a coach and I agree that training takes time for both the parent and the child. Often new patterns must develop.

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